Equilibrium & Sustainability

India shakes up global approach to climate change as G20 chair

Willy Kurniawan/Pool Photo via AP, File
FILE – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, holds the gavel with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo during handover ceremony at the G20 Leaders’ Summit, in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia Nov. 16, 2022. India officially takes up its role as chair of the Group of 20 leading economies for the coming year Thursday, Dec. 1 and it’s putting climate at the top of the group’s priorities.

India plans to shake up global climate goals in its new position as head of the Group of 20 (G20) on Thursday.

In particular, the world’s second-most populous nation (soon to be the first) intends to use its new position to secure green investment and shift global governance to the benefit of the “Global South,” a grouping that largely includes lower-income nations in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.

“Our G20 priorities will be shaped in consultation with not just our G20 partners, but also our fellow travelers in the global South, whose voice often goes unheard,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday, in a statement printed in Indian newspapers.

Indian leaders framed the country’s role over the next year as lever to direct pressure from low- and middle-income countries to make sure climate action does not get sidelined.

“We share too the apprehension that sustainable development, climate action and climate justice could be side tracked due to more dominant issues,” Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told university students on Thursday at New Delhi’s Sushma Swaraj Bhawan university, according to The Hindu.

“India has to take the lead in pushing for collective action and that is exactly what we intend to do at G20,” Jaishankar added, describing India’s role as “the voice of the Global South.”

Delhi’s position comes amid calls from leaders of rising economies like Indonesia and Brazil for a broader role in global decision-making.

“There’s no explanation why the winners of World War Two should be in charge and the directors of the UN security council,” newly elected Brazilian president Lula da Silva said in a speech at last month’s U.N. climate change conference.

“The world has changed. Continents want to be represented,“ da Silva added. “The world needs new global governance on the climate issue.”

In its new role, the Modi government has promised to serve as a voice for such efforts. It is expected to continue to push rich countries to keep their long-delayed promises for significant amounts of spending for climate adaptation in lower-income countries. Rich countries agreed at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit to begin spending $100 billion per year by 2020 — a sum that was supposed to increase annually through 2025. 

Wealthier countries fell $17 billion short of those promise, and have not increased spending since, a report from the U.N. Environment Program found. The required cost for adaptation alone to the growing strains of climate change could cost as much as $340 billion per year by 2030 and $565 billion by 2050, according to the report.

India was a major force behind the U.N. adoption last month of a specific fund to help poorer countries pay for the “loss and damage” from a climate crisis they did little to cause. The details of this fund will likely come into focus during the year of its G20 presidency.

Like leaders across the Global South, Modi has long argued that funding for loss and damage alone isn’t enough. He has argued that far more investment is needed to make the reforms to decarbonize his country. At last year’s U.N. climate change conference, Modi called for $1 trillion in annual financing to finance decarbonization in the developing world — joining African leaders who called for $1.3 trillion.

 “We haven’t seen much money yet coming for energy transition from the developed countries,” India’s Power and New and Renewable Energy Minister Raj Kumar Singh told the International Solar Alliance in October, according to S&P Global. 

India will also likely continue to pressure rich countries to cut their fossil fuel emissions — which are worsening the country’s severe climate risks. Extreme climate events like droughts, cyclones and heat waves have nearly doubled in both frequency and destructive power since 2005 — and the country is highly vulnerable to future climate change, according to India’s Council on Energy Environment and Water. 

India’s own position on the question of climate adaptation is complex. While the country has set plans to reach net zero by 2070, it still plans to add $33 billion in new coal capacity by 2026, the AP reported. 

But Delhi also pushed unsuccessfully at COP27 for a global commitment to phase down the use of “unabated” fossil fuels, not simply coal, according to S&P Global.

This effort failed in the face of opposition from countries like China and Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries members like Saudi Arabia. OPEC is banking on fossil fuel consumption and burning to keep rising through mid-century.

Failure to get wealthy nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions “will force India and developing nations to turn immediately to disaster and climate adaptation strategies rather than mitigation and prevention ones,” Mark Cogan and Viviek Mishra wrote in an op-ed in The National Interest last week.

India’s push for a phasedown of fossil fuels comes as part of a larger strategy to keep global heating to below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

That’s a goal G20 members committed to last week in a meeting in Indonesia, Reuters reported. It’s also one that is still achievable — despite claims of fossil fuel industry “incumbents,” International Energy Agency president Fatih Birol told the Guardian this week.

Addressing divisions within the G20 on Thursday, Modi said unity was necessary to confront major global challenged.

“Today, the greatest challenges we face – climate change, terrorism, and pandemics – can be solved not by fighting each other, but only by acting together.”

Tags Climate change G20 Narendra Modi Narendra Modi Subrahmanyam Jaishankar
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